Three months after Kate Lacroix of Boulder, Colo., had her second baby, she realized her body wasn’t going back to the way it was as easily as it had after her first. Part of the reason was likely her age. She was just shy of 30 when her first child arrived, and nearly 40 when she delivered her second. Adjusting to her body’s new normal was likely harder because of the pressure of living in her home town, which routinely tops the list of the Skinniest Cities in America.
“Around here, you have a baby and three months later you do an Ironman,” Lacroix says. She felt bad about her appearance, so when she saw an online ad for a local stylist who was offering wardrobe tips and packages specifically geared toward moms, she decided to try it. “I had never thought of myself as the kind of person who would hire a stylist, but I needed a new playbook.”
Lacroix says it was clear the stylist, Liz Finkelstein of Mile High Style, understood the issues moms can face regarding body changes and appearance, so she felt like it was “a safe bridge to walk across.”
“Our culture puts women in a hard bind,” says Alexis Conason, a New York City-based psychologist and a research associate at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at Mount Sinai-St. Luke’s Hospital. “During pregnancy, we’re encouraged to show off the belly bump, and yet within weeks of having the baby, we’re supposed to look like it never happened.”
To most people, fashion stylists are akin to personal chefs or a personal hair and makeup team: An out-of-reach luxury reserved for A-list celebrities. Proponents of C-string underwear and double-sided tape to “help” women’s bodies fit into extraordinary fashions, stylists are associated often with advancing and reinforcing the limiting beauty ideals that many women rail against — especially right after pregnancy.
There also has been a boom in fashion blogs run by mothers that deconstruct killer looks and teach moms how to copy them on a budget. So a service that once reinforced restrictive fashion and beauty ideals is now actively disrupting them.
And that’s not easy, given the chronicling on social media of lightning-fast postpartum weight loss. Celebrities, models and zealous friends flood our news feeds with bikini reveal photos and “telfies” (tummy selfies), often only days after delivering. In addition, even OB/GYN offices are increasingly offering “Mommy Makeover” procedures such as body contouring, Botox and fillers, tummy tucks, vaginal rejuvenation and liposuction. That can make it seem like having something done cosmetically is the final leg of the normal journey to motherhood. Add to that celebrities’ frequent, public comments about the procedures they’ve had done and it can feel like Everybody’s Doing It.
We’re also expected, Conason points out, to have the time, motivation and willpower to “get back” to where we were before pregnancy. So it’s no wonder that many women think that their bodies after pregnancy and delivery aren’t their “real” bodies, but rather something that they’ll eventually transform or leave behind.
That’s what stylist Michelle Addison of Vancouver, B.C., hears from many of her clients who are mothers.
“Ninety-nine percent of my customers tell me almost immediately that they’re not at their goal weight,” Addison says. “And every woman points out her flaws like ‘Oh, it’s my arms,’ or ‘I don’t like my stomach.’”
But Addison wants to help women look good and feel good about their appearance as it is right now. She starts by trying to change women’s perceptions about themselves. After that, she zeros in on her client’s fashion preferences and daily activities. Then she recommends clothes, often inspired by current high fashion looks but more wearable and in more practical fabrics, that they will feel good in.
Roxanne Carne, a personal stylist in Arlington, Va., has a similar goal and process.
“Women are often their own worst enemies,” Carne says. “We get stuck and hold on to old versions of ourselves.” But, she contends, dressing for your current body type, daily activities and role doesn’t have to feel like giving in or giving up. “It can actually be empowering.”
Clients complete a form detailing their favorite fashion icons and looks. After that comes the in-person body type analysis, which is the foundation for pulling together outfits that work with a client’s shape.
Shana Draugelis uses a similar approach on The Mom Edit, a fashion blog that helps moms source and put together practical, fashionable outfits. Draugelis, who is based in Philadelphia, started the site in 2008 after the birth of her first child, when she was at a low point.
“I was living in my husband’s sweatpants, and I looked and felt horrible,” she says. She kept noticing that some moms seemed effortlessly stylish, so she dissected how they did it. “Every woman has something they feel good in, like a great-fitting pair of jeans. Maybe it’s that they have the right amount of flare or skinniness.” The secret, she says, is figuring out why they work, then capitalizing on that.
The call for body acceptance rather than body alteration is even inspiring new clothing for the postpartum period. Two years after delivering her first baby, Sarah Longacre (a Minneapolis-based doula and yoga instructor) felt ashamed that she still couldn’t fit into her pre-pregnancy wardrobe, but she didn’t want to continue wearing maternity clothes. Choosing something to wear had become the hardest part of her day, and she felt like something was wrong with her body.
“But who gave me that message?” Longacre asks. And why, she wondered, were there no clothes to make mothers feel supported and stylish? She created Navel Pants, a yoga pant/legging hybrid with a reinforced, removable tummy panel to support new mothers anatomically and help them feel good about their bodies.
“There’s nothing wrong with our bodies,” Longacre says. “It’s the clothing and the pressure we put on ourselves that’s the problem.”
“It’s not about adhering to a rigid definition of cool, specific style rules, or feeling pressured by your old clothes,” she says. “It’s about figuring out who you are, and what your life and body are like today — and then dressing fabulously for it as it is.”
Audrey D. Brashich is the author of “All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty.” She lives in Vancouver, B.C., and New York City. Find her on Twitter @AudreyBrashich.
You might also be interested in: